Wednesday, October 17, 2007

VOTES files complaint with Ontario Ombudsman


All fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required
*First Name: Bill
*Last Name: Longworth
Rest of Contact information removed!

The Ombudsman Office hours of work are Monday to Friday, 9:00am-4:30pm (EST). Please indicate the best method and time to contact you for information:

Any time

1. What government body is your question or complaint about? (please identify by name)

Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing---Insufficient oversight and supervision of irresponsible and undemocratic actions of Oshawa City Council

2. Who have you dealt with in this organization with respect to your complaint?

Hon. J. Gerretsen, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Hon. D. McGuinty, Premier of the Province of Ontario

3. Please summarize the matter you are complaining about and include any relevant dates.

City of Oshawa's Bylaw to move to a general vote for the election of Municipal Council. In this city of 160,000 people, the impossible election ballot will contain upwards of 100 candidates and give members of council constituency sizes twice the size of our Provincial and Federal Government members.

Officials of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing have been quoted as saying that the maximum size of a municipality for a general vote is about 20,000—about the size of Oshawa’s present wards. At 160,000 population, Oshawa will be 8 times larger than the maximum general vote size suggested by the Ministry.

Changes to Provincial Legislation give municipalities authority to determine their own governance but insufficient provincial guidelines are provided to municipalities to insure adequate public communication including rationale for the proposed change, definitions of terms used in referendum questions, levels and quality of information to promote understanding and public debate to insure that citizens are adequately prepared for informed plebiscite voting.

An informed public is a requirement in a democracy and a basic right of voters according to both Canada's Supreme Court and Elections Ontario.

In Oshawa's case, city council introduced a plebiscite question in terms of Oshawa’s governance and then acted irresponsibly in providing no information, stimulating no public debate, and gave no rationale for the plebiscite.

In view of the fact that no dissatisfaction was ever expressed with the existent ward voting system, voters are entitled to know why the question was asked.

All of the suggestion and initiative for abandoning ward voting in favour of the general vote came from the politicians who then tried to keep it a non-issue.

They then designed a referendum question to skew the vote to the result they favoured.

The mayor publicly supported city council's “secret” strategy by saying city council had no responsibility to inform the public.

Because of the way the issue arose from council, the "secret" strategy they followed to catch voters "cold" in the voting booth and the convoluted question in which they were required to vote "NO" to preserve their existent system, we must assume that the change is self-serving to councillors...they want a system that serves them rather than the people they are supposed to serve.

Oshawa City Council’s actions are an affront to democracy and because of the severely flawed process I feel that the Provincial Government should step in and postpone Oshawa's moves to the general vote until after the next election and only then after calling another referendum after satisfying the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing that they have a plan to sufficiently inform the public and promoted public debate about the change.

It does not make any sense whatsoever that Oshawa's local government that is supposed to be closest to the people has councillor constituency sizes twice the size of our Provincial and Federal government members.

There is no appeal process for Oshawa Council's action because their bylaw changing to the general vote includes retaining the present ward boundaries. These wards will not be used but have only been retained to avoid an appeal to the OMB.

Because wards are associated with ward voting in Ontario, and Oshawa is moving to the general vote, for all practical purposes they are effectively reducing all of our presently defined wards to one for voting purposes.

This practical change to one ward for voting purposes should be appealable to the OMB.

4. Summarize what steps you have taken to try and resolve your complaint including any grievance, appeals and/or requests for reconsideration you have submitted and what response you received.

1. Letters to city council committee in charge of the referendum strategy to provide information flyers to all households giving:

a) the rationale for change,
b) consequences of the change,
c) benefits to accrue from the change.

2. Addresses to council

a) problems with the change,
b) shortcomings of the referendum process,
c) requests for funds to have a brochure independently prepared and distributed to do the communication job that council refused to do.

3. Numerous letters to the Mayor and Council

4. Letters to the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Premier

5. A website
5. If you have received a final decision on an appeal or request for review or reconsideration of your complaint, please indicate what the result was and why you feel this was unfair.

Council has approved a bylaw to move to a general vote despite considerable objection in the community and receiving inordinate amounts of public comment and letters that the plebiscite question was confusing, not understood, and that after many exclamations by voters who felt they had voted the wrong way.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is taking no apparent action.

6. Describe the result or outcome which you would like to see for the matter you are complaining about.

1. Oshawa's general vote bylaw declared invalid because of a severely and purposefully flawed process and an "engineered" plebiscite question tailored to skew results the way council wanted.

Oshawa city council should be told that if they feel the general vote is best for Oshawa that they should have another plebiscite question on the issue at the next election but only after they have satisfied the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing that they have provided sufficient information and promoted public debate.

2. The Municipal Act revised to insure that sufficient communication is provided and debate is promoted prior to any plebiscite on municipal governance systems.

7. If you consider the matter urgent, please explain why.

City Council's self-serving manipulation of the people is fostering a loss of confidence in this council to the point where they will be rendered ineffective in providing adequate government for this city.

Oshawa will be the largest city in the country using the general vote without political parties and it will be undemocratic to have an impossible general vote ballot approaching 100 candidates.

I believe that those drafting legislative changes to the Municipal Act did not foresee the shortcomings of the changes in terms of the potential of allowing an irresponsible council to introduce governance changes to make local government far less accountable to the people, far less representative of the demographics of the city, and that a city the size of Oshawa at 160,000 would pick up on these shortcomings to reduce democracy and take city government further from the people that our Provincial and Federal Government Members.

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